Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My phone doesn’t work hard enough

I don’t ring anyone up or answer when people ring me, because I’m a misanthrope.  But my phone does a lot of other things such as email and social media and that’s why I have one.  But I don’t feel like it’s working hard enough for me.

I do a few other things with my phone, too. I’ve written about them before.  They involve using rat nests of hairy string to turn NFC tags into contextual switches.  That is, bumping a tag does different things depending on the context it gleans from the phone’s sensors.  For example, a tag might do different things in different locations.  Or at different times.  Or if it’s dark.  With the right software you can do some cool things.


I have an NFC tag by my bed.  When I bump the tag at night, it puts the phone into blocking mode so it doesn’t beep or flash when notifications arise.  When I bump it after my alarm has gone off, it turns off blocking mode.  When I bump it in between, it starts the torch app so I can navigate around in the dark.

The next stage is to set the torch to turn off when I’m in a room that’s light enough: I’ve got downstairs without waking my wife up and turned on the light.


When I bump a wrist tag while I’m at an airport, my phone goes into flight mode.  Then when I’m at an airport and at low altitude, flight mode turns off automatically.  When I bump the tag for a second time, my clock is set to local time.


This one isn’t interesting in itself, but there’s some different coolness involved.  I have a tag fixed inside a pocket of my jacket (you’ll be surprised to learn that I have a geeky jacket with a million pockets. One is a pocket in a pocket with velcro which seems designed to hold an emergency coin or something. There’s an NFC tag in there).  When I put my phone in that pocket, it connects to my bluetooth headphones and sets the volume to the right level. Wearable computing! Ish.

But I still think my phone isn’t doing enough for me.  One of the many apps I plan to write when I have time is one that’s aware of all the many, many sensors on my phone and the many things it can do.  It will let me define contexts dpending on the output from sensors and other things such as time, whether a particular email or text has arrived, what devices are connected, what networks it can see etc. and define rules that trigger actions depending on that context.  As I say, I’m doing some of this already using existing software and hairy string, but I want to go a lot further.

Maybe I want my phone to know when I’m walking (it has sensors for that!) and it’s dark and I’m in a dangerous place and tell someone where I am.  Or maybe if those conditions are true and I bump an NFC tag, I want it to call 999.

Maybe I want my phone to know when I’m walking from work to the statin and tell me when the next train is and whether it’s delayed. Maybe it could recommend that I get a taxi (it could check the traffic reports on that route or just make inferences based on the time of day),

Maybe I want to bump a tag when I’m standing outside a pub and have my phone tell me which of my friends are inside (and maybe how long they’ve been there…)  Perhaps I want to bump the same tag outside a restaurant and have my phone show me the menu.  Or outside a shop and have it tell me when it closes.

And of course, I want all this information delivered to a Google Glass or a similar sort of device.

That’s what I want my phone to be doing for me.  I don’t understand people who say they just want their phone to make calls. Frankly, I could do without the actual phoning part of phones altogether.

I’ll be writing some apps like this next year when I’ve finished my current work.  If anyone wants to test them, they can.

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